VIFF 2021 Review: Kicking Blood

Alanna Bale plays a modern world vampire who faces a life-or-death decision in the Canadian thriller Kicking Blood.

Right during the first week of the Vancouver International Film Festival, I fulfilled my first VIFF goal of seeing a Canadian feature when I saw Kicking Blood. It also became my first Altered States film of the VIFF. It’s a vampire story that’s something.

Anna celebrates her birthday with a slice of cake and with Bernice and Gus: two of her co-workers at the library. During the shift, Bernice is upset Gus is leaving her for another woman. That night, Gus is about to make love to Anna. He thinks he’s the one in control. What he doesn’t know is that anna is a vampire. She delivers him the fatal bite!

Somewhere else in the city, Robbie is an alcoholic who’s being booted out of the house of a young woman who’s been looking after him. She caught him making out with her fiance! Robbie finds himself out on the streets. Anna walks by him. She sees him with a bottle in his hands. However she notices something about him. Somehow she’s willing to take him in. She’s able to let him live in her place and feed him well. He is expected to recover from his alcoholism, if he says he’s willing to change. Anna conducts business as usual at the library. She has her friendly conversations with Bernice. She then comes home to Robbie. She learns she has feelings toward him. Feelings of love. But she doesn’t know how to deal with it.

One night in a nightclub, two men named Boris and Ben are having fun and drinking. There they meet what appears to be a woman alone named Nina. Ben is attracted to her. He tries to get closer to her, but Nina knows he’s married and trying to hide it. Soon it’s the three of them with Ben doing cocaine. They’re having good conversation. Anna joins the conversation. However it’s apparent Ben will become Nina’s latest victim. She does eventually bite the life out of him.

It becomes apparent there is a trio of vampires in the town: Anna, Nina and Boris. They bite people out of their lives and then live off their possessions. Anna is very good from hiding it from Bernice and Robbie: two people who mean a lot to her, but how can she keep it a secret? It shows in her restraint as she wants to make love to Robbie, but she can’t get any closer. How is Robbie going to find out? That also hits her as she learns from Bernice she won’t take her pills and will rely on her inner strength and her mentality on her physical condition. A vampire like Anna can’t have connection to humans. How can Anna make this work?

The trio’s next victim is an artist who lives alone. They visit her in her apartment as she’s making a sculpture. They first ask her questions about her art, but then they shift the focus on how her art may be remembered after her death. The questions of her art seen after her death continue, which the artist kindly answers them. Then Nina bites the life out of her. Instead of enjoying this, it’s a turning point for Anna as she shows huge concern.

The last incident of vampirism affects Anna. She knows as a vampire, she can’t connect with humans emotionally. Problem is she has been connecting with humans as she watches Robbie go through his alcoholic withdrawal and as she visits Bernice in the hospital as she’s dying. She is reminded she has human sensitivity. She can’t have that as a vampire If she does, she would have to identify with mortal humans. She reveals her identity to Robbie, but he is shocked and leaves her. While at a bar, he meets Vanessa: an old flame from his college days. The two start heating up.

However the time is coming for Anna. This is the time she will have to choose between life as a vampire or human mortality. First she confronts Vanessa with Robbie. The two face off right in the middle of the road as Nina and Boris arrive. Vanessa is the latest victim. Then the two remind Anna that Robbie is her last chance. One bite of him will keep her immortality active. Refusing to bite will lead to her death. The ending is slow and more about intensity than effects, but dramatic and unconventional.

I’m sure we’ve all seen our fair share of vampire stories. From the classic stories of the legendary Count Dracula to the teen craze of the Twilight series, vampires still intrigue us and captivate us. This is a unique story of a young female vampire who’s part of a trio of vampires. As they welcome themselves in other peoples’ lives, they kill them with one bite and take material things of theirs. Anna is a vampire who works a librarian job, but pursues her victims. Often you’ll understand why a librarian like Anna has so many luxuries. However it’s an odd twist when she takes in a homeless alcoholic like Robbie. Often you wonder why would she? He has nothing to take from. Would he still be one of her eventual victims? More on that later.

The thoughts continue when you learn of the vampire trio she’s a part of. It’s after she meets and tends to Robbie that she starts to reconsider her life as a vampire. She has feelings for Robbie and doesn’t want to kill him, but her vampirism is her immortality. Should she continue to be a vampire and have Robbie as one of her victims? Or will she choose the life of mortality? That she’d rather die than kill Robbie? Even with the presence of Boris and Nina, it gets you wondering. Does she like being a vampire? Or is she controlled by the other two?

The film has Robbie as the surprising secondary character. Anna meets Robbie on the streets right after his previous ‘keeper’ booted him out and with a bottle in his hand. You’re left wondering why would a vampire like Anna take in a man like Robbie who has nothing? Would he be her next victim? Even later as she houses him instead of giving him a fatal bite like all the others, you wonder why is she keeping him alive? Is it something in herself that she sees and only Robbie can bring that out in her? Is it Robbie that gives her the change of heart? Boris and Nina remind her that her biting is her key to immortality and that a vampire is not to connect or empathize with humans. But Robbie is the human that does exactly that. Even though her best friend Bernice is the first human to get her to connect as a human instead of maintain her vampire separation from humans, it’s Robbie who best conveys Anna’s human feelings. It’s also Robbie, as he goes through alcoholic withdrawal, who sends the message to Anna of the vampirism withdrawal, a fatal withdrawal, she could face. Is it worth it?

This is a film full of a lot of twists and surprises. The vampire legend is always full of various elements of the legend. I’m sure many stories play with the legend. One thing that caught my attention is how these vampires are perfectly unaffected by the sunlight. Most vampires are either affected by sunlight or the light is fatal to them. The trio of vampires are unharmed by the sunlight, but it’s the nighttime where their vampirism comes to life. Maybe that’s the trick. They act like everyday humans by day, but their vampire side comes out at night. Even the story of how another woman tries to steal Robbie from Anna adds into the drama. For the most part, the story makes sense. If it’s a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces fit well. The story however carry itself out in a slower-than-usual pace. It settles more for the intensity of the situation, rather than the sensational images of bites of the flesh. Also I feel we learn the fact that Anna is part of a trio of vampires later in the film than we should. However those who come to a film about vampires and are huge fans of seeing ‘vampires in action’ may be disappointed. The ending works, but there were even small bits where it had some flat moments, or could have been better. Like Nina’s last line.

I give top marks to director Blaine Thurier. He does a very good job in directing the play he co-wrote with Leonard Farlinger. I like how he plays along with the legend and creates a unique story of vampires in the modern world. It even gives you the feeling of a vampires-next-door story! Also very good is the acting from Alanna Bale. Playing a character that goes from an everyday girl to a vampire at night to a vampire with human feelings is not an easy task. She does a very good job of it and keeps her focus well. She makes it work. Luke Bilyk is also very good as the recovering alcoholic Robbie. He does more than just play a recovering alcoholic. His role is also that of human feelings and feelings of love to Anna. He does a very good job of showing the importance of Robbie in the story.

The film also has a lot of great supporting performances too. Rosemary Dunsmore was great as Bernice, the librarian who gives Anna her human feelings. Vinessa Antoine was also very good as Vanessa, the woman who tries to win Robbie away from Anna. Ella Jonas Farlinger (daughter of scriptwriter Leonard Farlinger) and Benjamin Sutherland were good as the two other vampires, but their roles lacked dimension.

Kicking Blood is not your typical vampire story. It does offer a twist in the common vampire story that delivers the unexpected. Despite it’s small but noticeable glitches, it will still keep you at the edge of your seat.

VIFF 2019 Review: Guest Of Honour

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David Thewlis plays a health inspector whose inspections eventually become a lot more than simple inspecting in Guest Of Honour.

The Vancouver International Film Festival usually begins with an Opening Gala of speeches and an airing of a Canadian Feature Film: usually from TeleFilm Canada. This year it is Guest Of Honour: the latest film from Canadian director Atom Egoyan. It was a good film to open with, but not a great one.

The film begins with a priest, Father Greg, consulting with a daughter who lost her father, named Jim. Greg asks her how to best remember him, but she can’t say because she doesn’t remember him that well. She can speak for what he does remember of him.

Jim was a health inspector for restaurants most of his life. He started as a restaurateur, but failed. He had since become a health inspector. He was very strict in his job, especially to ethnic restaurants. As a family man, he married a Portuguese woman and fathered a daughter named Veronica. Veronica possessed a lot of music talent. That all changed one day when Jim introduced Veronica to a new music school. He met the instructor and she met Walter. Walter would become her partner in her glass harmonica instruction and performances, and later her boyfriend. The instructor would eventually become Jim’s mistress. Veronica knew that as she saw Jim sitting between the instructor and her mother, who was dying of cancer, and saw Jim hold the instructor’s hand.

Moving on into the future, the last time Veronica met with her father was while she was in jail for a crime she wants to take responsibility for, even though she may not have committed it. Jim is willing to do whatever it takes to get her out of jail, but she is insistent in serving her time.

Jim has to go to past videotapes and past references in order to get her justice. Sometimes he even confides to her pet rabbit about his problems and issues. As we flash back to the past, we learn more. We learn something bothered both Veronica and Walter inside. It bothered Walter so much, he committed suicide. Veronica would grow up to become a music teacher for a private school. However she has taken aback with the drummer of the school band named Clive. Clive looks so much like Walter. It even appears that she is more intimate with Clive, including to the bus driver Mike who is in love with her.

Mike is upset that Veronica won’t develop a relationship with her so one day, he sends a lewd text to Clive’s phone through Veronica’s phone during one of their performances. Clive and Veronica notice this. They want to do something, but fear they might be caught and accused of something they don’t want to be accused of. However it all falls apart at the hotel as Veronica is reminded of Walter’s suicide. Whatever problem happened at the hotel, it led to Veronica being sentenced to jail time and stripped of all teaching duties.

Jim tries to think of a way to free Veronica. He gets an idea after he sees a video of a rat inside a restaurant he inspected. The owner claimed someone with hard feelings to the restaurant put the rat in there to fix him. Another time, he comes across an Armenian restaurant with dead rabbits. He is about to close the place down, but they insist it’s for a delicacy of rabbit ears to be served at a private party. They plead with him to have mercy on them, and he decided to go to their special party.

Before the party, it’s evident Jim is up to something. He takes rabbit droppings from Veronica’s rabbit and puts them in a tube. He then goes to a German restaurant appearing to order dinner, but then goes to the bathroom to drop the droppings around, and then alert the manager. While talking with the manager, the real reason Jim is here comes out. He wasn’t to speak to his grandson, who appears in conversation to be Jim’s own son. The grandson is Clive. Clive knows why Jim is here, and is not happy. The situation between him and Veronica is just as humiliating.

Then over at the party at the Armenian restaurant, he arrives and is impressed with what he sees. The owners even treat him as a ‘guest of honor,’ despite what almost happened days ago. They ask him to give a speech. Jim tries to give a nice speech despite being intoxicated. However Jim’s feelings of his intended vengeance towards Mike come out during his speech. The speech lands him in trouble with law authorities. After he finds Veronica’s rabbit dead, he decided on one last act, and this involving the Armenian restaurant to assist with it. It is through all Veronica has told that Father Greg is able to give his requiem to Jim at his funeral. The film ends with one last flashback.

Atom Egoyan is a source of pride for Canadian filmmakers. He is one of only ten Canadian directors ever to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Director. Atom has been known for his unique style of filmmaking. At the gala, he flashed back to when he did his first student-film at a school in Victoria. He received a C- and a lot of complaints and ‘advise.’ Some even described it as ‘too artsy.’ Whatever the situation, it would pave the way for his style to have its heyday in the 1990’s and his Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay coming for The Sweet Hereafter.

Times have noticeably changed. His films have been consistently done well and good at telling a story in his own style, but they’re not as well-hailed. Some of the meaner critics could say he is yet another director that had a directing flare and it flared out. This film does feature a lot of mystique in terms of the story. The film mixes the story with a variety of themes like restaurant inspections, music and feeling, family secrets, technology, and rabbits. The film does so in a colorful way, but it’s imperfect. There are some things that don’t make a lot of sense. Sure, Veronica’s music talent would propel her to her career as a musician and teacher, but through glass harmonica? The theme of rabbits also appears to be done in a way that doesn’t make sense. Veronica has a pet rabbit she adores, but also a lucky-rabbit’s-foot keychain. The rabbit becomes a source for Jim to confide in, use his droppings to frame a restaurant for facts, and have the dead rabbit’s feet cut off? Even how his restaurant inspections go from simple inspections to him using them as a way to get justice for his daughter, but pave the way for his downfall? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It’s not just the confusing elements of those themes, but also the storyline itself. There are a lot of moments in the story that leave many questions unanswered. How did he die? What secret made Walter commit suicide? Did Jim’s affair with his mother have something to do with it? What exactly did Veronica get arrested or convicted for? Is Clive really Jim’s son, or did Jim just say that to the grandfather? What was the significance or Jim’s personal reason of having the rabbit’s feet cut off? Now don’t get me wrong. I know the film is a puzzle and it’s about getting the pieces to fit together. I also know filmmakers leave out certain things to get the audience thinking or even trying to draw their own conclusions or write their own stories. However most of the elements or scenes don’t make a lot of sense. I felt there were a lot of critical things that were missing and it worked against the film rather than for it. Atom does a good job of creating and directing a good story, but I feel he missed in a lot of areas.

Despite the film’s flaws, the acting was one area that did come through well. David Thewlis did a good job of working with his complex role as the inspector/father. He gives his character of Jim dimension and helps it to make the role work for the story. Laysla de Oliveira makes it look like she stole the show. She makes it look like the film is more about Veronica that it is about Jim. She too is able have her role of Veronica make sense and even justify scenes that appear confusing to us. The supporting acting was also good with Rossif Sutherland playing Mike with his hidden inner anger, as well as Luke Wilson as Father Greg and the actors playing the Armenian restaurant owners. The music of Mychael Danna also adds to the feel of the film.

Guest Of Honour is not the best work of Atom Egoyan and has some noticeable flaws, but it does have a lot of qualities too. Especially the acting.

Oscars 2016 Best Picture Summary: Part 3

Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.

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Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley, an Australian searching for his family back home in India in Lion.

LION

Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.

We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.

Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.

This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.

Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.

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Hidden Figures is the story of three African American women working for NASA who broke new ground and brought down racial barriers.

HIDDEN FIGURES

It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.

The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.

The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.

This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.

Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.

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Hell Or High Water is about two Texas brothers on a robbing spree and a policeman (played by Jeff Bridges, right) trying to chase them down.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.

One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.

One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.

This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother Toby who’s smart, tries to play it cool and possibly the one person in the world who could see redeeming qualities in brother Tanner. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.

Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?

That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.